Kinan (Assam), March 23 (IANS): At a time when Assam's excise revenues are shooting up, indicating a huge increase in the sale of liquor all over the State, a gram panchayat in the remote Assam-Meghalaya border has become a trendsetter by banning consumption of liquor of any sort in about 70 villages under its jurisdiction.
The prohibition of liquor, whether country made or IMFL, is a Herculean task in villages where there is 100 percent tribal population and rice beer is a tradition to welcome people with.
"The socio-economic condition of the villagers had forced us to take such a stern decision. Most of the villagers are poor and it is very difficult for them to make ends meet," Weneed R. Marak, a member of the Kinan Gaon Gram Panchayat, told IANS.
Kinan village is located only about 70 km from Assam's seat of power, Dispur, but due to poor road conditions it takes almost five hours to reach the village. The people of most of the villages under the panchayat still have to walk for at least 10 km to reach Boko, a small township in South Kamrup from where they can board a bus and other vehicles to the other parts of the state.
"The people are poor and they earn their livelihood by farming in the family land, and sometimes by working as daily labourers in Guwahati and adjoining areas. There are hardly a few people in the villages who have a government or a private job," said Marak, adding that alcohol has taken a heavy toll in the villages.
"They (members of the panchayat) called a meeting of the panchayat about two months back and unanimously decided to ban consumption of liquor - be it country made or IMFL. The panchayat has also decided to impose a fine of Rs.500 if someone is found drinking in the village," Benedict Areng, a resident of Kinan, told IANS.
"The situation has improved in almost all the villages as the panchayat has also unofficially appointed some people to monitor the situation. If someone is found drinking alcohol of any sort, it is immediately conveyed to the panchayat and the individual or the family is fined," said Benedict.
A fine of Rs.500 is a big amount for the villagers and no one dares to violate the law. Besides, the rules and disciplines are followed strictly in most of the tribal societies in this part of the country, like the Garos.
"We have kept certain relaxations too. Like rice beer is a tradition with the Garo community and it is also used in traditional rituals. So, there is no harm in using the rice beer in rituals. However, the panchayat must be informed in advance," said Marak, who is also headman of Kinan village.
"There are 80 villages under the panchayat and almost all are following the instructions. There are a few cases of violations and we have taken action against violators. The penalty or fine of Rs.500 is just a way to reform the person and not a way to tax the family. So, in some cases of violations we have collected fine as per the capacity of the family or the individual," said Marak.